School Superintendent Looks Back And Forward – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 4/21/2021 at 4:12pm

(Editor’s Note: Transylvania County SCORE knows that leadership is essential for growth and survival in any community. This is the fourth in a series of articles from local leaders about their reflections on where they are after one year of COVID-19, and how their organizations handled the challenges. These articles are the backbone of a public recognition series by Transylvania County SCORE focused on the leaders, both for profit and nonprofit, in our community.)

Dr. Jeff McDaris, Transylvania County Schools superintendent

What happened to us in 2020?

Learning happened. Certainly, schooling continued to evolve and adapt while the pandemic continued. The term “learning loss” is being used frequently in many circles, from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., but the term is not totally accurate for Transylvania County Schools. Learning did happen. Great teaching did happen. Learning was delayed, and the rate of delivery and consumption was altered, but learning occurred.

Our educational staff did (and continues) to work deliberately and effectively to refine blended learning, incorporate social-emot-ional health and context, and build as much normalcy as possible. That normalcy is welcome and includes our move from Plan B to Plan A across all grade levels.

This includes important leadership opportunities, such as extra and co-curricular activities. Last year reminds us that the new normal emerging from this pandemic will include some blended learning. It is not going away, nor should it. We know the rising expectations from higher education and business. These were becoming evident before COVID-19. We have a responsibility to prepare students for a digital world, where an understanding of computer science and artificial intelligence are as important as traditional coursework and applied academics. What happened in 2020 is a stark reminder of the changing world of learning and the necessary adaptability to ensure quality delivery of instruction.

Where is my organization today?

Overall, I believe Transylvania County Schools is at a good point. Thankfully, we already embraced the improvement of blended learning and the importance of social-emotional health and resiliency in the future workplace. The pandemic reinforced this direction, and we are continuing to implement ways to make both face-to-face and blended remote learning better and more responsive. Nothing can ever replace a great teacher in a classroom, face to face, with students. We can provide the best tools and professional development possible to instruction to make that learning more responsive, modern and engaging. The environment also is critical. We are very excited about the bond construction that will elevate both of our comprehensive high schools and a middle school campus to embrace the modern, safe and inviting learning environment that will not only positively affect teaching and learning but also social-emotional health. We know resources are critical to our success, and quality demands it. We will continue to build on this past year as we move toward the end of this school year and the start of the next.

What do I foresee for Transylvania County for the rest of 2021?

First, our schools. We’re going to make it past COVID-19 and emerge as a stronger school system. The return of middle and high students to Plan A is an important step to the eventual full return of students to school in the fall. There may still be some bumps in the road, and we are not out of the pandemic yet. But with vaccinations for all staff and many students already occurring, and a good trajectory on battling the virus in place, we feel good about the direction. Our tremendous partnerships with the Transylvania County Health Department, Blue Ridge Health and many other community partners, including our wonderful students and parents, kept us going. We never closed, and we anticipate opening back up more normally in the fall. I am cautiously, but resolutely optimistic. I think we’ll see full stadiums and gymnasiums at some point in 2021-2022. I hope we see mask less populations in the next year. We know it will take the continued hard work of all to make it safe and to make it happen. For our county, it appears we have become an even more popular destination for people to visit, even with a pandemic occurring. I am excited to hear about potential investments in other infrastructure, and we know the school infrastructure will improve with the bond construction work at both comprehensive high schools. I am encouraged to hear more talk about industry recruitment. Finally, I am encouraged to hear more serious conversations beginning to occur around affordable housing, high-paying jobs, improved broadband and additional health care opportunities. I think 2021-22 will be an exciting year.

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